Sarah DeVries
Many women say the choice of Felix Salgado as a gubernatorial candidate despite rape accusations illustrates Mexico’s attitudes toward gender equality. Many women say the choice of Felix Salgado as a gubernatorial candidate despite rape accusations illustrates Mexico’s attitudes toward gender equality.

International Women’s Day highlights work still needed on gender equality

Half the nation's population still have concerns they'd like properly addressed

Not all International Women’s Days in recent years have been memorable to me, but a few stick out.

The first one in which I was aware of the day, back in college as a budding and somewhat radical feminist, was when my “woke” (for 2001 anyway) boyfriend got me flowers. I thought it was the coolest gesture ever.

Last International Women’s Day, I was moving into a new home, having very recently separated from my husband, ready to be truly on my own here in Mexico for the first time ever. That day, women were encouraged not to show up to work or to participate in any laborious activity in order to make both our importance and the absence of so many other women known. I’d scheduled the move a couple of weeks ahead of time and felt that surely the feminist goddesses would forgive me.

This day, I find myself sitting in bed with my laptop, reading story after story about the extent to which Mexico is still one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Authorities in Zapopan, Jalisco, for example, are thrilled because not one of the 500-plus women issued a “panic button” there has been killed in the past year. This is apparently a huge accomplishment.

Yippee?

Another “huge” accomplishment: protesters finally managed to get Félix Salgado off the ballot for governor in Guerrero who’s been accused by multiple women (and is still under investigation) of sexual assault. You’d think that rescinding his candidacy would be simply a matter of someone saying, “Oh, we weren’t aware, how embarrassing,” but no. President López Obrador spent quite some time defending him, insisting that calls to withdraw him from the race and the Senate were politically motivated, in an eerie echo of President Trump’s defense of accused sex-offender senatorial candidate Roy Moore in 2017. But in the end, the right thing (sort of) happened. Another accomplishment.

I don’t know about you all, but I am so ready to raise the bar.

And this year, like every year, I hear at least one man say indignantly, “Well, why don’t we have International Men’s Day?” to which I reply, like I do every year, “Because every day is International Men’s Day.”

This time around as well, pandemic times have also led to some extra layers of meditating on women’s situations. Like many (especially single) women around Mexico right now, I’m struggling to keep my head above water as I navigate a kind of motherhood that is suddenly much more necessarily complicated because of the pandemic and the need to maintain a steady income in a job market that is anything but steady and reliable.

Even before that, motherhood was a fraught topic everywhere, opinions abounding for what combination of very specific requirements make you truly good at it or not. This is a never-ending conversation that takes place while mothers continue to pull much more than their fair weight with housework and childcare even when they also work outside the home, and that’s in non-pandemic times.

Full-time, salaried positions with benefits now seem to be features much more of the rearview mirror than of our present, but it’s just as well; I wouldn’t have time for a full-time job now anyway unless I simply left my 7-year-old to her own devices.

I often circle back around to the truthfulness of a phrase I saw a few months ago: mothers are expected to parent like they don’t have a job and do their job(s) as if they don’t have kids.

The thing that mostly helps me stay afloat is the combination of getting up a few hours early each morning to work and the fact that my daughter is with her father half of the time, which allows me to plow through. It also allows me some precious downtime that I know so many others don’t have and are desperate for.

How on earth are single moms in Mexico without any relief making it through right now? My assumption is that those who are surviving are doing so through extensive family networks and possibly remittances from family members abroad. I’ll be eager to see the numbers on the research that come out a few years from now.

There is some good news, at least. At many levels of government, we’re nearing or are at gender parity, especially in the state and federal legislatures. There’s still quite a large gap in the “big power” positions like mayor, governor, and, of course, president, but at least we seem to be moving in the right direction. I hope we continue to do so.

This week, there will have been marches across Mexico. In the past, these have been greatly criticized because of some property damage caused by a few, (even as Amnesty International decried human rights abuses toward the protesters). But don’t worry! Though we haven’t figured out how to protect women from being raped and murdered — can we give panic buttons to everyone? — we came up with a solution for protecting the National Palace: a 3-meter wall. Well, that’s a relief.

“But what about the destruction? Look at that graffiti on our monuments! It’s a disgrace!” you may feel inclined to shout. I think I speak for many women when I say, “Boo-freaking-hoo.”

Buildings can be fixed or even rebuilt, graffitied walls can be cleaned up, monuments can be repaired and restored. But women can’t be un-raped, un-killed, or un-disappeared.

So make way. We’ve got some issues we want to address.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com.

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